If you’re reading this, it’s likely because you’ve made a regrettable software purchase or gone through a nightmarish buying process at some point in your career. We’ve all been there.
But, avoiding complex or difficult buying processes is much easier said than done. And, unfortunately, your software buying woes may only get worse in the near future. Consider these statistics:
- In 2021, in the U.S. alone, there were 556,600 active tech companies (source).
- 77% of B2B buyers state that their last purchase was very complex or difficult (source).
- The average number of people involved in a single purchase decision increased by 20% over the past year, and over a quarter of companies expect the number of people involved to increase in the next year (source).
Not only do today’s buyers have more choices than ever before, they also have more opinions to factor in. To make matters more complicated, tech buying isn’t slowing down– even in the face of a recession.
Instead, companies are spending more money on different types of technology. The primary focus now is purchasing technology that improves productivity, saves money long term, or somehow mitigates potential risk. As Reid Hoffman, co-author of The Startup of You, puts it, companies are looking to “play offense” with their tech stack (source).
All factors combined, this means today’s buyers are under pressure to make more informed and effective tech purchases in an environment that’s made it increasingly difficult to do just that.
So today, let’s get back to the basics and look at a simple framework that will help you make more informed B2B software purchases.
Standardize Your Vendor Assessment Process
This may seem obvious, but hear us out. Many teams go into demo calls with a checklist of questions. However, it’s also important to establish a framework for evaluating the answers to those questions for multiple vendors. Otherwise, it can feel like comparing apples to oranges, since every vendor has their own way of explaining and contextualizing how their software works.
Take commission software, for example. A vendor with a legacy solution that’s extensively customized for each customer— and requires external engineering support to maintain— will operate very differently than a vendor providing a low-code/no-code platform specifically designed for teams to self-manage. Even though both are built to solve common pain points around sales compensation, their approach (and technology) are like night and day.
That’s why it’s important to map out all your use cases and requirements first, then create a rubric for evaluating answers based on how well a particular solution satisfies different criteria. For example:
- 0 = Does not meet requirement at all
- 3 = Meets some of the requirement
- 5 = Exceeds the requirement
Consider including the following types of questions as part of your standard vendor assessment process:
- Vendor credibility: Ask each vendor about their experience in your industry, current customers of note, and success stories with companies similar to yours.
- Product value: Ask each vendor about ROI, how their solution differs from what you’re using now, how they solve specific pain points, how long is a typical onboarding, and more generally, about why you need their tool.
- Technical compatibility: Ask questions about integrations with your existing tech stack, usability and adoption, as well user support and technical assistance.
- Product security and compliance: Ask about data storage, encryption, and the security measures they take to protect their customers.
- Pricing: Ask about pricing models, billing cycles, and accepted payment methods.
From there, you can build out your list of specific questions, assign them to each category, and score answers accordingly.
Want to see this methodology in action? You’re in luck! Check out the following blog post where we do a deep dive into the evaluation process for a particular type of B2B software: 23 Questions to Ask While Researching Sales Incentive Software
Consult with a Vendor’s Customer Base
There’s no one more qualified to tell you about a piece of software than a vendor’s current and past customers. And, while reviews and case studies are a good place to start, that’s where many organizations stop.
Let’s look at a few less frequently employed tactics your organization can use to consult with a vendor’s customers during your evaluation process:
Reviews: Start with the well-known, heavy hitters like G2, TrustRadius, Capterra, Software Advice, and GetApp. Then try some lesser known review sites like Finances Online, Good Firms, TrustPilot, and one buyers often forget, the Better Business Bureau.
Checking out reviews will give you a better idea of what to ask more questions about and what you might need more clarification on. The benefit of well known review sites is the sheer volume of reviews. The benefit of the lesser known review sites is that there’s less oversight from the organizations themselves so you’ll find more honest or negative reviews than on the larger sites.
Personal Connections: Don’t underestimate the power of your personal network. Whenever you’re in the market for a new piece of technology, we recommend you take to LinkedIn or other professional communities you’re active in and simply ask your network what their preferred platform is and why. You’ll be surprised by how many responses you get. See a comment or connection you want more details about? Take it to your DMs or schedule a phone call if the other party is open to it!
Ask the Vendor: If all else fails and you can’t find the information you’re looking for, ask the Vendor if they have any customers that would be willing to take a phone call with you. Typically, vendors will go out of their way to facilitate conversations with customers– especially if they’re confident in their product and have nothing to hide.
Remember to take these types of conversations with a grain of salt. After all, the customer is handpicked by a vendor for a reason. Their experience with any given product may not represent the typical experience.
We strongly recommend you do all of the above. Multiple perspectives will give you the most well-rounded, realistic view of a product.
Determine How the Vendor Uses Their Own Software
Employee reviews aren’t often considered in the software evaluation process, but sites like Glassdoor can help you tap critical insights into vendors that you won’t find elsewhere— specifically, how or even if they use their own software.
This practice has multiple terms— most popularly, eating your own dog food or dogfooding. Now, to be fair, not every tech company will have internal use cases for the software they create— if a vendor built a maintenance management platform for manufacturers, for instance, it makes sense that they wouldn’t be using it in the same way as their customers.
With some types of software, however, it should be a red flag if employees have issues using their own technology. Although reviews from engineers can often shed more light on underlying technical issues, also keep a look out for complaints from the end users. For example, if you’re evaluating a marketing automation platform, look for reviews from marketing operations employees.
Employee reviews can help you identify potential gaps or roadblocks that may be difficult to spot on a demo, but should also be taken with a grain of salt. Trends are more concerning than a single negative review. The latter may certainly be indicative of problems with the company or product, but could also have been left by an employee who parted on bad terms.
We also recommend you take a similar approach to something we mentioned in the previous section and leverage your personal network. Check LinkedIn to see if any of your connections are former employees of the platform you’re evaluating. Reach out and see what they have to say about the product!
We know you’re probably overwhelmed with information already, and adding even more might seem counterintuitive to alleviating software research headaches. However, consulting vendors (in the right way), customers, and employees during your search is essential for getting that 360-view of each solution, so you can select the best possible fit for your organization.
Given the changes in buying behavior we mentioned at the start of this article, your executive team and higher ups will be more critical than ever before when it comes to the tools you buy. Be sure you’re investing in the tools that give your organization the best chance at being successful.
Spiff is a new class of software that creates trust across organizations by delivering real-time automation of commission calculations and motivates teams to drive top-line growth. With a combination of an intuitive UI, real-time visibility, and seamless integrations into current systems, Spiff is the first choice among high-growth businesses. Spiff’s sales commission software enables finance and sales operations teams to self-manage complex incentive compensation plans and provides transparency for sales teams.